Saturday, April 30, 2016


Found myself at a Forum yesterday evening involving a group of teachers presenting papers on various aspects of teaching Shakespeare in the classroom. And 'various' indeed were the papers, ranging from a couple reflecting a reasonable degree of academic rigour to one or two that sounded suspiciously like sounding off a series of opinions on the Bard and classrooms in this nation for the sheer pleasure of venting. I enjoyed them all; even the least intellectually stimulating offered something of interest in terms of entering into the thought world of its presenters and trying to understand what led them to the expression of these opinions in this place at this time.

There were glimpses, also, of classrooms other than my own in schools seemingly, sometimes, very different from any I had taught in here. I mention this particularly in relation to the presentation of one young lady centring on the notion of power as a theme (in relation, in part, to The Tempest) which she appeared to use, in part at least, as a way of expressing her frustrations with regard to the limitations she felt placed upon her regarding what she was allowed to deal with in her classroom. Specifically she appeared to imply that the powers-that-be frowned upon dealing with any remotely controversial material in the classroom and simply to talk about protesting against or questioning those who wield power was unacceptable.

This was extraordinary to me. I've never come across any such 'policy', if that's what it is, expressed anywhere I've taught in this nation. But she was obviously sincere and expressing an indignation founded in some kind of real experience. Which leads me to this thought: I don't think it's possible to safely generalise about schools here and what they practise despite the apparent uniformity of approach. The local, actual experience of what you encounter in a school, on the ground, as it were, is precisely that: local, particular, distinct - sometimes dependent upon one or two key relationships with those in immediate 'power' over you. If you're lucky, as I have been, these folk are sane. If you're unlucky...

Friday, April 29, 2016

Running On Empty

When it reaches 8.30 pm and you suddenly realise you haven't eaten at all, then you know it's been a busy day.

Thursday, April 28, 2016


It's funny but in my youth I don't think I ever consciously noticed people interrupting each other in conversation . Sadly I don't think I was ever really aware of interrupting others. Now I find I'm acutely aware of various interruptions, but not entirely in a disapproving way. Rather the phenomenon has a fascination about it. What is it that makes some people incapable of hearing others out? And the fascination is doubled in the case of those curious presenters you see on tv who thrive on asking people questions with a glorious unconcern as to their answers. Why ask someone what they think when you don't actually want to know?

Wednesday, April 27, 2016



Technically it would be possible to quibble over the idea that I'm moving into my seventh decade since I reckon that that should be counted from this time next year. But no one's going to listen, so I'll just have to accept the grim reality of having too many candles to fit on any hypothetical cake that might make its way in my direction at this time.

Mind you with the Missus around to celebrate with this morning, and take goofy photos, and my drama guys giving me further cause for celebration with a great performance this afternoon all is very, very well indeed for this old fellah.

Tuesday, April 26, 2016


The coverage of the inquest verdict on the Hillsborough tragedy by Sky News today was excellent. They made no bones about the fact that finally, after so long, some kind of justice was being done. But it was painful to view those images of the 96 dead, especially the youngsters amongst them, and think of the lives of which they were robbed, and the lies that were told to cover up the incompetence that led to those loses and traduced their memories. Wonder how those newspapers who allowed themselves to be used to convey those lies (yes, I'm looking at you, The Sun) will cover this tomorrow?

Monday, April 25, 2016

Keeping It Real

One of the great things about getting some exercise done is the pay-off that follows: the sense that you've achieved something real and positive, even if you haven't exactly set the world alight with your level of fitness. I'm happy to report that the Missus and I made it to the gym yet again this evening and seem to have established a reasonably regular routine. It feels good.

(By the way, if I wake up struggling to walk tomorrow the above is rescinded. Just saying.)

(At my age you just never know, you know.)

Sunday, April 24, 2016

Reasoning Through Rhyme

Somewhat surprised, but pleased, to see a couple of pages headed Rhyme & Reason in yesterday's Straits Times which, according to an accompanying article, are slated to be the first in a regular series to last fifteen weeks, featuring a 'literary' prose piece and a poem relating to this island and what goes on in it. The accompanying article sounded a tad tentative, almost apologetic, about intruding upon readers' consciousness with this peculiar lit stuff, but its heart was in the right place.

Anyway, it was good to get no fewer than three poems from Edwin Thumboo, and be reminded of the possibility of a public, political kind of poetry in an age that seems so resolutely inward-looking. I suppose the prof might be seen as a 'safe' way to start the series, but it's going to be interesting to see just how edgy some of the material might get as it goes along. The great thing about getting political in a poem is that with reasonable cunning you can cover up just how subversive you really are. But the problem then is that no one actually understands you. Doh!

And then there's the possibility that someone whose politics are as fundamentally idiotic as those of old Willie Yeats ends up dealing in profound truths despite the silliness.

Saturday, April 23, 2016

Real Magic

Ever since we decided to do A Midsummer Night's Dream this year as our big production I've found myself thinking about the play quite intensely. And that intensity has reached its highest pitch over the last two weeks as I've been figuring out exactly how many of the lines we'll be cutting to ensure we keep to a reasonable stage time and don't overwhelm our performers by the sheer amount they'll need to memorise.

It's painful, of course, to cut anything, and I've steeled myself to be ruthless, getting rid of something like a third to half the original. Fortunately that leaves a lot to savour, and that's what I've been doing as I've found myself more up close and personal with Shakespeare's words than ever before. What must it have been like to have been given this stuff to perform in its pristine state a little over four hundred years ago? Magical is the only word I can think of, in its truest sense.

Friday, April 22, 2016

Gently Weeping

I can remember the exact moment that I became a convert to the music of Prince, though I'm uncertain as to the year in question. It was some time in the early 80's. I'd enjoyed listening to the singles I'd heard up to that point, but had no idea of the phenomenal talent that lay behind them. Then one night watching the telly I accidentally hit upon a concert featuring the man himself. It was so unbelievably out-of-this-or-any-other-world fantastic that I was left questioning myself as to why I had no idea of the scope of the little guy's genius to that point. I suppose I'd lazily fallen for media stereotypes and vaguely remember telling myself never to do so for any musician ever again.

Something of that genius shines through on Prince's playing on the stellar tribute to George Harrison he contributed to back in 2004, in the best live version of While My Guitar Gently Weeps I've ever heard. What I love about this is the obvious joy Prince (and Tom Petty, Jeff Lynne, Stevie Winwood, etc) experiences in the moment of creation. Sad to think that's lost to us now for ever; happy to think of the amazing legacy that's ours in terms of the recordings he left behind (quite a number of which, I'm sure, have still to see the light of day given just how prodigal a gift he possessed.)

Thursday, April 21, 2016

Whistle While You Work

People don't go around whistling like they used to, do they? This sad truth came to my mind the other day when wandering back late in the evening after checking on an English Language course we run for our foreign scholars I crossed the path of one of our girls, presumably making her way home, and, unexpectedly, whistling to herself most tunefully as she did so. She didn't break off, I'm pleased to say, whilst passing me as I don't think she saw me coming and probably didn't realise I was a teacher, dressed as I was in my civilian clothes for the evening. Her tunefulness is, I'm afraid, the exception that proves the rule, hence my taking such notice of it.

When I was working in a factory back in the 70's there were any number of whistlers happy to vie with the Radio 2 shlock that was piped into the workplace. (How much I loathed that station then!) Was this a working class thing, the whistling, I mean? Do guys on the factory floor still maintain their humanity in this way? I hope so.

Wednesday, April 20, 2016

Getting Their Own Back

Interesting to see Led Zeppelin finally in court over one of their fairly notorious 'borrowings'. Funnily enough I wasn't aware of the Spirit track in question, despite having fond memories of some of Randy California's work, but I don't think there's much doubt that Mr Page swiped that guitar figure for the opening of Stairway. Mind you, he does such great new things with it, and then goes off into such fabulous uncharted territory, that I think it would be mean-spirited to regard this as out and out plagiarism. And, let's face it, the vocabulary of rock and blues is so limited as to make imitation to the point of stealing inevitable. Paul Weller has based an entire career on it, and I don't mean that as any kind of criticism: the Modfather stands beyond reproach in this household.

Having said that I must admit I'm hoping that Led Zep get taken to the cleaners, and that other possible victims (I'm looking at you, Bert Jansch, or your Estate now you're no longer with us) follow suit (pun intended.) The reason is simple: I am mean-spirited enough to hope that what look to have been a genuinely unpleasant, if not downright nasty group of people, get their just deserts. Sorry guys, much as I love a lot of the music, I detest pretty much all of the attitude that went with it.

Monday, April 18, 2016

A Cautionary Tale

Last week I found myself telling a class a story about some people - essentially nice, likeable ones - I knew back in my youth and how things had turned out for them over the years, related to a mistake they made in their callow years and its manifold repercussions. I was aware there was something of an element of over-simplification in my narration (when do we ever do justice to the complexity of the experiences of others, especially painful ones?) but I felt that in some ways I did justice to the facts. Indeed, in the very telling I had a sense that I was seeing a truth about the situation that had unfolded over time, and that I was only now grasping in its fullness. I hadn't in any way prepared for the telling, and that in itself added a kind of honesty to what I was saying.

Something I'm realising more and more these days is that it's only with time that the full arc of a non-fictional narrative can work itself out - and even then no story is ever complete until its actors have left us, which may a long, long time if several generations are involved. This is all a bit intimidating if our tales are essentially based around our follies; we can only pray that some story-lines derive from our more noble moments, assuming we have them

Sunday, April 17, 2016

Real Fear

Got hold of a copy of Shirley Jackson's wonderfully unsettling The Haunting (sometimes known as The Haunting of Hill House) the other day. Last read it as a youngster without realizing just how well written the opening chapter is, since all I was interested in then were the fireworks I was hoping would be let  soon loose. Now I can appreciate the sense of unease that quietly pervades almost every line.

Unfortunately these days I can't get frightened like I used to, not by fiction that is. It's the real world, and its attendant madness, that bothers me now.

Saturday, April 16, 2016

On The Move

At the turn of the year I announced I was resolved to keep moving in 2016, and I think I've managed to do so, though not quite in the way I intended back in January. I had it in mind then to factor a few long sight-seeing walks into my itinerary, but that's not happened. Instead I've kept up a fair regimen in the gym, but more importantly in terms of the walking I've found myself scooting round my workplace with a reasonable degree of frequency and alacrity.

That was certainly the case yesterday, to the extent that the old bones were distinctly aching when I got up this morning to drag myself back into work again. We had a bit of an event on in the first half of the morning, and then I had some rehearsing to do. So I found myself creakily on the move again. And here I come to the point, with a cautionary tale for the day.

Once it was all over for the morning and early afternoon I found myself sitting at my desk, ready to make a move in a homewards direction. It was then that I realised I had somehow managed to become untethered from the clipboard holding my precious script and notes and other sundries from the rehearsal, and the diary and small notebook that had also been accompanying me. And this after being ultra-conscious of the need not to mislay such items at this time since I've done so in the past in similar busy periods evoking serious regrets.

So off I go in search of these items, first to the office at which I'd deposited the keys to the rooms I'd been using for the rehearsal. In the office, a decent walk away from where my desk is situated, I find the clipboard but not the diary and notebook. So it's back to my desk to see if I've somehow placed diary and notebook somewhere around, or even in one of my bags without realising. That turns out to be not the case. So off I go back to the office where the keys are - fortunately not yet put away but just lying on the counter where I'd placed them - and then it's onward to the main rehearsal room where I find the diary and notebook (to my huge relief.) This room is at the other end of the school from where my desk is, by the by. Finally I head back to the desk, to at last be able to take my leave, having added a good twenty-five minutes of pointless perambulation to my day - all in the by this time sweltering heat.

Except I suppose it wasn't exactly pointless since at least it kept me moving. I'd rather have been with the Missus, though, on her early morning saunter at the beach in Melaka whence she journeyed to yesterday for a fun-filled Family Day. Lucky her.

Friday, April 15, 2016

Back To Basics

Fell asleep in the early evening listening to Manic Street Preachers' Generation Terrorists played at a satisfyingly reasonable volume. An elegant proof, if one were needed, of just how tired I must have been.

Love the way the bass is recorded on this album, by the way. Lots of body. Which reminds me of old chum Steve Cannon confiding in the Missus, last time he was in Singapore, that back at university I frequently encouraged him to listen to the bass-lines on whatever happened to hit whatever turn-table we were sharing. Good to know I must have had great taste even then.

Thursday, April 14, 2016

On Time

We were rehearsing today, myself and my drama guys, within a tight deadline. We were only allowed one hour at the venue in which we'll be doing a performance in a couple of weeks, and we're only allowed a single booking. I'm not entirely sure how such restrictions help to promote drama as an art form and assist in young people's learning, but you learn to live with the limitations placed upon you. Indeed, there was a powerful sense of discipline in making every minute count, which we certainly did, to the credit of all concerned.
Which leads me to this observation. In my experience people outside what might broadly be termed the Arts generally assume that the making of said Art is somehow a fairly leisurely activity. But everything about my experience as a practitioner, as it were, indicates that a great deal of what might be considered Performance Art is generated in relentlessly breathless conditions, with the eyes of all on the clock ticking at seemingly twice its usual speed. This is an excellent way of inducing a steady flow of adrenaline and of ensuring a pounding headache, the variety that strikes once the experience is over.

It's a curious truth also that a kind of ruthless creativity is unleashed by working within unreasonable boundaries. A bit like what happens when a poet crams a world of feeling into a sonnet. I just wish that we were given more than just fourteen lines in which to work, at least once in a while.

Tuesday, April 12, 2016

A New Light

As is the way of things, today was a bit of a struggle at times. But it concluded with banana cake and chatter with Noi. So all is well. Very well indeed.

Monday, April 11, 2016

Shutting It Out

Something Mum would do as she got older greatly irritated me, though I never took her to task for it. If a particularly distressing story came on the news she would deliberately seek not to pay any attention to it at all, often demanding that I change the channel. I always did, but not without a feeling that there was something fundamentally wrong with Mum's almost ostentatious desire to shut out the pain of others.

I mention this because just now Sky News was carrying a grim story about a little girl whose mother finally killed her after months of abuse and I had a very strong impulse to change channels. I resisted the impulse, but it gave me a powerful insight into what had motivated Mum years ago. She hadn't been putting on a show; her need to protect herself from the distress of others was viscerally real. I think I knew this then, which is why, thankfully, I never made an issue of it.

This leads me now to the question of why it feels so wrong to not feel able to listen to this kind of story. Let's face it, it's difficult to see what good listening does, especially when you might uncomfortably recognise an element of something close to voyeurism in the experience. I suppose the guilt felt in entertaining the impulse to turn away lies in the sense that somehow or other you're failing to honour or acknowledge the real pain of others in doing so.

There's something true in that, but the problem is that we'd be overwhelmed by the suffering in the world if we didn't, in some sense, learn to turn away.

Sunday, April 10, 2016

In Brief

Got back into the pleasures of exploring a couple of rich fictional worlds over the last few days via John Mortimer's Rumpole and the Penge Bungalow Murders and Ian McEwan's Black Dogs.  Despite their differences, one being conceived as pretty much pure entertainment and the other earnestly making its seriousness as a novel dealing above all with ideas manifest, they shared some key features in common. Both were short and deftly constructed, both found their centres in the events of the Second World War, and both were eminently readable. Good stuff.

Saturday, April 9, 2016

The Dead

This being the anniversary of Mum's death I've been thinking of her today more than is my usual wont. But I've also been thinking rather more than usual of other of my dead. By an odd coincidence I've received almost simultaneously e-mails from Cousin Jean and Ann, each with a photo attachment. Jean sent some old, indeed very old pictures featuring Dad and Uncle Jim as babies, kids of around ten and as soldiers, one with their mum & dad. I've seen the soldier pictures before, but never the shots of them when they were youngsters.

Ann sent a picture of myself and Tony, at the time of their engagement do, looking impossibly young and clean cut. Funnily enough I remember the occasion we were at vividly, though not the taking of the photo which was quite a casual shot.

Is this all a bit morbid? Not at all, as far as I can tell. I don't dwell in the past, but it's good to visit some times and be reminded of what counts. Larkin got it right, as he so often did, despite the mess he made of his life: What will survive of us is love.

Friday, April 8, 2016

Tax Avoidance

It's been amusing in recent days to follow the so-called Panama Papers story about all those super-rich types going to enormous trouble to park their cash in places where they can avoid paying their fair share of tax. The irony of it: having so much more than others, yet being determined to keep as much of it as possible. They must have missed the lesson about civic responsibility. Or the one about how happiness has no basis in the desire for as much money - or celebrity - as possible. It's difficult to feel indignation over something so pathetic.

Thursday, April 7, 2016

The Sporting Life

Experienced something of a minor epiphany today as I was watching a couple of excellent water polo matches involving students from the school at which I teach. I've always had a somewhat patronizing attitude to sport in this Far Place, occasionally wondering aloud why so many resources have been put into an area in which the nation has resolutely failed to excel at any professional level. This morning I realized that sport at a professional level is not where the values, indeed the virtues, it can promote manifest themselves. In schools the point of getting involved in sport is understood and genuinely promoted - and the young people who experience it are given the opportunity to develop these virtues that will prove so useful in later life: an understanding of the need to function as a part of a team; an acceptance of the need to develop a sense of discipline to excel; the capacity to win with grace and lose with dignity; a readiness to enjoy being in the moment and accept the pressures inherent in such readiness. Oh, and a grasp of the importance of, and the need to respect these bodies we carry around with us.

I just can't see all or even much of that in the EPL, NBA, FIFA etc. Can you?

Wednesday, April 6, 2016

The Perfect Novel

It's been a long time since I've had the pleasure of reading one of John Mortimer's tales of that most canny of legal eagles, Rumpole of the Bailey. I thought I'd read all the stories, completing them around about the time that Leo McKern made his last appearance as the character on the telly. But it turns out I was wrong - and very much so.

Today, completely by chance, I came across Rumpole and the Penge Bungalow Murders in the library at work. I just happened to be looking for something worthy yet not overly demanding on the fiction front to follow my reading of David Foster Wallace's epic Infinite Jest. The effort of tackling the big book seems to have taken something out of me. On completing it I thought I'd instantly get on with another novel of some variety, but somehow haven't had the heart for more than a week now to embark on anything.

But as soon as I read the opening of the Rumpole and found myself back in chambers I was hooked. It seems that Mortimer penned this yarn of Rumpole's first triumphant case well after the tv series came to an end. I'm glad he did. And now I'm off for a good read.

Tuesday, April 5, 2016

A Nostalgia Act?

I've been reading some of the on-line chatter regarding KC's Live in Toronto with great interest, especially the stuff at Progressive Ears. (I haven't got the album yet but, trust me, I will be doing so.) Broadly speaking there's a debate between those who regard the latest 7-man incarnation of the Crimson beast as a nostalgia act, re-enacting past glories for fans who want to dwell in the past rather than going forward, and those who see the band as a manifestation of the great Crimson tradition of forever moving into new territory in its radical re-imagining of the past. Based on what I've read about the actual concerts performed by the line-up, and the little I've actually heard of them on Live at the Orpheum, I find myself in the latter camp, but not to the point that I don't grasp what more critical voices are getting at. (I think the somewhat negative review that features in the first segment of the link above is a thoughtful and measured piece even though I think its criticisms are fundamentally misplaced.)

It seems to me that there's are some fascinating questions behind the debate, the first and foremost of these being whether the music of the popular culture of the twentieth century can survive as living art into the future, and, if so, in what form? Will a repertoire emerge, in relation to those forms of music that lend themselves to distinct structures, and will this become the basis of live performance?

If such a repertoire were to emerge I think something other than nostalgia might be at work. I don't think we listen to, say, Beethoven as a kind of legacy from the past to which we're simply paying homage. And I don't think we need make the assumption that every musician playing material from a back catalogue is indulging in a kind of comfortable nostalgia. Perhaps the acid test lies in the nature of the experience for the listener? If you're hearing something new and urgent then the music belongs to the present rather than the past regardless of its provenance.

Monday, April 4, 2016

Listening To Your Body

I was 20 minutes into my usual routine on the elliptical trainer when my body found this to say:

What the heck are you up to, you old fool? You've been listless, to say the least, all day. You basically collapsed in the early evening and went tumbling into the land of nod because you desperately needed to catch up on sleep. You even felt tired going up the stairs to the gym. And now you expect to somehow keep going at a reasonable pace for another 20 minutes! Get real. Get off this thing. Stop pretending you're still seventeen.

Some good points there. But I didn't listen and kept going and, somehow, survived. I suppose there's a lesson in this somewhere - it's just that I don't know what it is.

Sunday, April 3, 2016

A Bit Of A Headache

I've had that thick-headed, stiff-necked feeling all day. I assume it's been brought on by a sense of sudden relaxation after the busyness of yesterday. I was wondering about going to the gym to try and relieve the muddiness, but there's an event to attend this evening so there won't really be time, and I've had a few bits and pieces to do in the day to try and stay on top of things.

The good thing is that this is all very mild, and I've had so little to complain of lately regarding matters of health that it serves more to emphasise that good fortune than otherwise.

Saturday, April 2, 2016

At Length

It's been a long, dramatic day. But it's been a good, dramatic day.

Looking forward to moving on to the next stage.

Friday, April 1, 2016

These Foolish Things

In the early morning I challenged myself to recall five very foolish things I'd done over the last week. It took less than two minutes to assemble a complete list, and I suspect I could have got up to ten quite easily. Either this is more than a bit worrying, or something to celebrate on this special day. I'll opt for the latter and hope for the best.